Thursday 31 December 2020



by Jane Carter



Today was Tony’s birthday. He was 50 years old.

Today was also the anniversary of his first day in the Water Company. When he’d got the job, his plan had been to stay for just 12 months until he knew what he wanted to do with his life. That was 30 years ago!! Where had the time gone thought Tony miserably as he peered into the bathroom mirror. He didn’t like what he saw. In his heyday he’d been proud of his long dark mane, swarthy skin and prominent cheekbones but now all he saw was a tired, puffy-faced and bald old man. At least being nearly six feet tall, he managed to just about carry his middle age spread.

‘I really don’t want to go to work today,’ he moaned to his reflection. He considered putting a peg on his nose and phoning the office, claiming to have flu but he knew he’d never have the nerve to do something so childish; he’d just have to grit his teeth and get on with it. Stopping in the kitchen to grab a piece of buttered toast, he kissed his wife ,‘high-fived’ the twins goodbye and headed out of the house.

It wasn’t the fact that he didn’t want to spend his birthday at the office. Tony’s reluctance to go to work was because today would bring another meeting with his boss; the grandly entitled ‘Head of Transformation’, who yesterday had accused Tony of being afraid of change. Tony still smarted at the accusation. He wasn’t afraid of change, quite the opposite in fact.

He has no idea of the changes I’ve seen thought Tony angrily as he squeezed into his mini cooper, ready to start his commute to work.

As he drove down the M5, wipers going at double speed in an attempt to stave off the heavy downpour, he thought back to when he’d joined the company back in 1990.

Then, a PC was a Police Constable, windows were something you looked out of and an apple, was simply a type of fruit.

In those days business was conducted using pen and paper and documents were written by hand before being sent to the typing pool via an army of messengers. It wasn’t snail mail in those days, just mail.

Even the I.T. geeks like Tony wrote their computer programs by hand, only typing then into the mainframe when they had access, which, if they were lucky was a couple of times a week.

Things started changing two years after Tony joined. He remembered the day his then boss told him excitedly that he had a cabinet full of mouses. Tony was taken aback, firstly by his boss’s lack of grammar and secondly by the horrific thought that the office had an infestation of vermin!

But Tony adapted quickly and was soon leading the desk-top project. Putting a PC on everyone’s desk and getting staff competent in using the new technology was a huge undertaking. In the early years his team had to deal with daily requests for help. One lady complained that her mug wouldn’t fit into the cup holder. It turned out she was trying to rest her morning coffee in the place where you were meant to put the floppy disk. Another time, a man phoned Tony’s team to complain that his mouse wasn’t working. When Tony went up to help him, he found the chap dragging the mouse against his computer screen.

Of all the requests for help that Tony and his team received, the favourite one by far came from a senior manager. He’d phoned up one morning in a rage. He had tried unsuccessfully for thirty minutes to reboot his computer and he demanded that as he was an important person someone needed to come to his office immediately. When Tony got there, he quickly learnt what the problem was. Apparently, the manager had worked through a set of online instructions and had been prompted to hit any key to continue. However, he’d been unable to find an ‘any’ button and was now convinced that he had a faulty keyboard. He was quick to tell Tony that this was a totally unacceptable situation and that senior managers like him could not afford to waste their time on such second-rate technology.

Tony remembered watching the man’s embarrassment as he’d explained that the term meant literally any key on the keyboard and not a specific ‘any’ key. Tony had dined out on the story for weeks.

And it wasn’t just the IT that had changed. Over the decades, walls had been knocked down to create open plan office space and the desks had gotten smaller to allow more staff to work there. They’d recently introduced working from home and there was even talk of hot-desking. The whole culture of the organization had changed greatly since Tony first started.

None of this reminiscing had done anything to improve Tony’s mood and by the time he’d parked his car he was feeling almost depressed. ‘Another day – anther dollar’ he sighed as he approached his desk. Then, as he sat down, he heard singing. Turning around to identify the source he saw all his colleagues coming towards him shouting out a tuneless rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ and bearing a large birthday cake. As he blew out the candles, he thought about the one constant throughout his working life; his friends.

That was something that hadn’t changed over the years; his ability to make and keep friends. His mother used to say that he knew how to put on the charm, but he liked to think of himself as simply a personable guy who liked people and who was liked in return.

Over the last 30 years his work friends had been there to celebrate his successes; many of those now taking slices of cake were there when he married Jenny nearly 20 years ago and at the twins’ christening five years later. More importantly, perhaps these friends had been there to support him when things got tough, like when he’d repeatedly missed out on promotion opportunities until he finally been awarded a senior, management role a couple of years ago.

For the first time that day Tony smiled. Perhaps things weren’t so bad after all. He’d dig in deep to his charm reserves when he met with his boss later and hopefully do better than yesterday in getting his point across. He also considered writing a blog for the staff intranet about what things used to be like at work. This morning’s stroll down memory lane had brought home how different the world used to be. It would be good for newer members, like his boss, to see how far the company, and its staff, had come during his time there and how change had been made successfully by the old timers like him. The idea cheered him up.

Happy birthday to me Tony thought. Finally, he felt excited about tonight’s birthday gathering at Drago Lounge. He loved it there and always had the same food: burger and chips. But tonight he thought he’d order some tapas, just for a change.

 About the author 

Jane retired from a 30 year career in the civil service in 2019 and joined Newport Writers Group in January the following year.
During lockdown she was inspired to write her first poem since O-level English Literature (in 1978!!) and has recently graduated to writing short pieces of fiction.



Wednesday 30 December 2020

A Woodland Far East Prisoner of War


by Amanda Jones

 a jungle bird cocktail


Suddenly they were diverted. The ship to which he had become accustomed now sped towards Singapore. A far cry from the original Middle East desert. His comrades in the Beds and Herts 5th Battalion, 55th Infantry Brigade, 18th Division were confused. As they travelled Grandad thought about his training back home. At only 24 years old, he had seen some sights from Luton and Dunstable to Honington Aerodrome then Beeston Park, Neatishead, Wroxham and Scottow Aerodrome in North Walsham. It was the Norfolk landscape at Thetford, East Harling Aerodrome which had contrasted dramatically to Galashiels in Scotland where they were based in a tweed mill.

Little did he know that staying in the horseboxes on the racecourse at Uttoxeter would be a luxury.

Then they had travelled to Merevale Park, Atherstone and Whittington in Lichfield. But it was at the end of October in 1941 that they had embarked on the SS ‘Reina Del Pacifico’ in Liverpool. The ship was to take them to India as they were transferred to the USS ‘West Point’ when they had arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Indeed, the attack on Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941 had seen their course change. After three days in Cape Town they arrived in Bombay after Christmas.

The train took them onwards to Ahmednagar and three weeks here saw brief training before they re-joined the USS ‘West Point’ and sped towards Singapore. The transport which had left Liverpool ahead of them many weeks ago was lost and on 29th January 1942 they arrived in Keppel Harbour, Birdwood Camp, Changi.

Flung into battle within a dying country no sooner had they landed than they were captured. The firing and fighting had not lasted long and Singapore fell. After the Japanese dive-bombed Birdwood Camp all of their baggage including their personal belongings were incinerated and on the 9th February the Japanese successfully landed on the island with surrender on 15th February at 8.25pm.

Changi Prison was then crammed full of prisoners of war. The Japanese knew not what to do. It was their custom never to give in, to avoid capture at all cost and suicide was the honourable way. Therefore, these prisoners had committed a huge sin by choosing life. It was monsoon season making life even more difficult as they were taken into the virgin jungle.

Grandad stayed in Changi until he was welcomed into the working party going north. It sounded fine. But, after being almost suffocated in cattle trucks as they were rammed in with each other and soiled with their own excrement he soon realised life was not going to be easy here. Water was hosed at them through the blinkers of light which dared to enter the train.

Then, they were off.

Forcibly marched through raw jungle further and further. Little food and what of it was dregs of rice with no nutritional content. It wasn’t long until prisoners began to drop down dead and become sick.

Manual labour kept them working under beatings in an environment full of mosquitoes and disease. They built jungle huts and shivered through fevers on the beds and floor. Washing in the river where cholera threatened and swelling with beriberi and starvation as work tore the muscles from their bones. Jungle plants were thick and thorny and they ripped at limbs leaving non-healing ulcers which led to amputation. Trained medical prisoners struggled with inventions to relieve pain and suffering.

After months on the Burma railway Grandad was admitted in the Nakom Patom hospital camp. All around war ravaged the landscape and Allied bombing sought to destroy the newly finished railway. Elsewhere in Thailand and Burma millions of native Chinese were killed and abused including women and children by Japanese and Korean guards and soldiers.

Then in April 1945 another promise delighted those in the hospital camp. Surely, if they were sick any offer of work would be light and be a welcome distraction? But the Japanese broke their word once again and Grandad found himself in even worse conditions than the railway but this time on the Mergui Road. Marched 73km in four days the already sick prisoners arrived to work 9am to 2pm, 3pm to 9pm then 10pm to midnight building this escape road.

When the rescue party arrived at last, they pulled the dying men out of the roadside with very few survivors. How did Grandad survive? Some were still marching in the jungle of Thailand when the war ended and it wasn’t until four weeks after surrender on 2nd September that every prisoner was on their way home, in India or in the Dominions’ hospitals. A long time after the end of the European War and they were still not ‘home’.

It is a battle I have only recently overcome with myself after becoming a Quaker. The atomic bombs saved my Grandad and made sure I was born. Prisoners were in the middle of digging their own trench graves around the camps when the bombs were dropped. What would have happened without the nuclear weapons? You look at the overall picture, not just the personal. So many Japanese civilians died and the cruel behaviour came from their leaders and doctrine. Their strong belief that shame and violence was guilt-free on those who did not follow their own laws and jurisdiction created the appalling conditions. Every part of society has this in their history in different ways but still in human-degrading suffering.

Forgiveness comes from acknowledging the behaviour and realising how love within you is the ultimate path to peace. Unfortunately Grandad never found his peace but died of bowel cancer alone. Survivors were told never to talk about their experiences and when he did he was told he was not believed by anyone. To deal with this hidden PTSD he became a violent alcoholic. Support and mental health was non-existent after World War II.

He used to visit Mum and me, riding his bicycle and smoking his pipe. We knew the first five numbers in Japanese as a hand-me-down. Grandad worked in the brickworks at Stewartby and Marston Moretaine. As with all things it was Mum who taught forgiveness, peace and love and she welcomed him with open arms to allow some healing and I became his Woodland girl.


 About the author

Amanda has been writing since childhood and along with short stories she writes her Missy Dog charity series, poetry, non-fiction and horror. You can find her here:




Tuesday 29 December 2020

Memories of Coolness for a Romantic Foodie


by Gene Goldfarb

a chocolate egg cream

     For some reason I always remember eating in Manhattan on days where I was breaking up with a girl, or the waiter or the maitre d’ said something seemingly clever or sounded real cool, or just one thing that stood out. Besides, in the Bronx or Brooklyn waiters were called Tony or Frank; in Manhattan you found waiters named Kassim.


     I had always wanted to eat at La Fonda Del Sol on 6th Avenue in the then Time-Life Building, across from Radio City Music Hall. It looked so jazzy and beautiful, but a bit too expensive for me. So that’s where I decided to break up with Mary, this Irish girl from Orange, New Jersey. She was really cool, a cross between Tuesday Weld who played the college heartthrob on The Dobie Gillis Show and the Zelda Gilroy character, whose name escapes me these many years later, a devastating combo of moderately cute and plenty smart. This luncheon, yes a luncheon date, came some time after I had sex with her the only time, and she had whimpered on my shoulder on the cab back to her apartment.


     You might wonder why I broke up with her. Simple. I saw I couldn’t hold on to her in the first place. She was getting more difficult to arrange dates with and her heart was clearly set on the son of a Greek shipping magnate, who liked wearing black Tee shirts over his bemuscled arms and torso. The closest I came to matching him was singing to my rubber ducky in the bathtub when I was five. So, short answer: yes, I felt for her, but I determined to drop her before she dropped me. And doing it in a classy La-Fonda-style way would make both of us feel better. The food there was pretty good as I remember, but the check hurt. I had never paid that much at a restaurant before. Still, it made me feel like a hero, mostly.


     Then there was Cleopatra, a restaurant on Broadway up in the mid-eighties. I had a very tasty chicken in a place that looked like the inside of an Egyptian pyramid with a chunky maize-like cubicle layout. I was on a date, but don’t remember the girl. The maitre d’ was a mustachioed fat guy who reminded me of the actor Walter Slezak, the type of guy who hung around airports and sold fake passports. While eating, I kept drinking one glass of water after another. Walter Slezak was very attentive in keeping my glass filled, finally chirping, “Ah sir, your glass must have a hole in it.” That I thought was the height of Old-World coolness.


Lastly, my super cool Uncle Philip owned a yard goods store on Broadway in the upper eighties. When my father dropped me off there, I was bored as hell. But at noon, Uncle Philip would close shop and take me down to Steinberg’s Dairy Restaurant on 82nd and Broadway. I would always order a chicken chow mein. It was scrumptious and indescribably delicious, unlike the chicken a regular Chinese restaurant would serve. When I asked Uncle Philip how come, he laughed, “My boy. This is a vegetarian restaurant. There’s no chicken in your meal. I felt like a jerk, but really didn’t mind. It was a mystery solved.



Alas, La Fonda, Cleopatra and Steinberg’s have long disappeared into Manhattan’s mists of time. Returning to this magical borough after an absence of decades, I look for companionship and chicken, but I’ll settle for good bread.


About the author 

Gene Goldfarb lives on Long Island, writes short fiction,essays and poetry, loves reading, international cuisine, and movies of all kind. His work has appeared in Black Fox, Bull & Cross, Twenty-Two Twenty-Eight, Green Briar, Quiddity and elsewhere.












Monday 28 December 2020

Three Pairs of Bed Socks and Two Hot Water Bottles



by Hannah Retallick

Tea with All That Sugar




‘How was Christmas?’


‘Your Uncle Steve was happy enough.’






‘Bless him. What about you?’


‘The worst yet, I’m afraid. I received three pairs of bed socks and two hot water bottles. Tea?’


‘Ouch. Yes, please.’


‘Ouch is an understatement. How old do these people think I am? Honestly…Are you still taking all that sugar?’


‘Yes, please.’


‘Do it yourself, I can’t watch. So, I’ve made a decision.’




‘It’s so nice to see someone young for a change.’


‘Young, eh? Thanks.’


‘All relative. Anyway, it’s nice to see you.’


‘Sorry, it’s been a while. Work…’


‘I know, I understand. The thing is, I’m sick of old people. They never do anything but grumble about their aches and pains and their neighbours and their families and the state of the world. Honestly, it’s driving me crazy. And they try to drag me into their misery…and give me old-lady presents.’


‘Mum got three different lavender giftsets this year. She hates lavender, always has. You’re both victims of old-lady stereotyping.’


‘Your mother’s five years younger than me. It’s no laughing matter.’




‘It’s all right.’


‘When you start getting coffin catalogues through the door, you can really panic!’


‘That’s it: from now on, I’m going to become youthful again. You know, like in that film, the one where the man ages backwards. I’m going to do it.’


‘Sounds good.’


‘I’m serious, darling. I need some life in my social life. Where do all the young people gather these days?’


‘I wouldn’t know. I’m an old person in everything but age. I hang out with books and things.’


‘Benjamin Button. Ages backwards in that film.’


‘Never seen it.’


‘Neither have I.’






‘What’s wrong?’


‘Nothing’s wrong, darling.’


‘Then why are you phoning me?’


‘I thought you would like an update. Wouldn’t you like an update?’


‘On the aging backwards thing?’




‘I’d love an update.’




‘Excuse me?’


‘Crossfit. I saw a poster at the library. It’s a gym thing, says it’s open to all ages and abilities.’


‘Please tell me it’s April 1st…’


‘Nowhere near. Don’t be silly, darling. I’ve looked it up on the internet, and I have to say, it looks like a good deal of fun. It is a high-intensity workout regime, involving a huge variety of exercises, such as gymnastics and weightlifting.’


‘That sounds dangerous. What about your hip?’


‘What about it? It’s the old one that gave me grief.’


‘It might be worth running it past your doctor.’


‘She won’t mind. She’s always preaching at me to keep active.’


‘She meant getting up to make a cuppa and taking gentle walks, not becoming a body-builder.’


‘I’m too lazy to become a body-builder.’


‘All ages, indeed. It’s like when organisations say, “We’re a friendly and welcoming group” – it never is. It’ll be a snooty group of teenagers in neon Lycra. Trust me.’


‘I thought you wanted me to age backwards. I thought you wanted me to push myself out of my comfort zone, to develop new skills, to become a New Me, even if it is a little late for New Year.’


‘When did I ever say that?’


‘You’re family. It’s implicit, isn’t it?’


‘I love you. You know that. You’re an inspirational human…Please don’t join Crossfit.’


‘I love you too. Maybe we can meet up next week? Bye for now.’








‘Hey. Iona, isn’t it? I’m Tony. How’s it going?’


‘Well, we haven’t started yet.’


‘Ha, good one.’


‘Nice to meet you.’


‘You too. Excuse my hands, bit sweaty. Pull-ups.’


‘Goodness, is that blood?’


‘I’ve stopped using gloves.’




‘Don’t worry, love, you’ll be fine. We take it slow. Work on form. Build up gradually. Boom.’


‘Boom, yes, that’s good, yes.’


‘So, fundamentals. It’s important that you understand these basic movements before we throw you into a class – gets a bit mad. Let’s start with squats. Here, sit down on this box, as you normally would.’




‘Right…Oh, okay, we might have some work to do.’


‘Did I do it wrong?’


‘There’s no wrong, love. We’re all about optimising movement, building technique and strength.’


‘Have I been sitting down incorrectly all my life?’






‘Gather round, everyone. Right, single-unders to warm up and then I want you to work on your double-unders.’


‘Excuse me, Tony, could you explain what double-unders are, please?’


‘Yeah, sorry, love. Rope goes under twice for each jump. Don’t worry about them. Do singles. Can you skip?’


‘Yes, I used to do it all the time when I was a little girl.’




‘That was a while ago though.’


‘Once learnt, never forgotten, eh? Riding a bike. Right, come on, get moving people. Simon, shift back a bit – your barbell’s in the way. Wow, Iona, what on earth did you do to that rope?’


‘I’m sorry.’


‘That’s more Tangled than the movie.’




‘You know, Disney? My kid is always…nevermind. Karen, you do box steps – reduces impact on your knees.’


‘Yes, coach.’


‘Core tight, Ben. Don’t arch your back.’




‘Don’t be sorry; keep your core tight. You okay, Iona?’


‘I think so.’


‘Good. Right, so, the workout will be a hundred double-unders – or however you’ve scaled the movements – a hundred air squats, and finish with a hundred double-unders. For time. Got it?’


‘Excuse me, Tony, but is an air squat a normal squat?’


‘Yeah, it is. Don’t do a hundred. Stop after 10mins, wherever you’ve got up to. Watch your form, as we discussed last week – back straight, head up, keep your thighs aligned with your feet etc…You’ll be fine, love.’


‘I think this rope might be a little long.’


‘It is. Go get another, they’re hanging on the door.’


‘All right.’


‘Watch out!’






‘Auntie, what on earth happened to you?’


‘Hello. Get yourself a cuppa, and a cake, if you like.’




‘Don’t fuss.’


‘I told you not to do it. Now look at the state of you.’


‘This is why we have two.’


‘You could have made sure it was your left.’


‘Ha. Your Uncle Steve can wash his own dishes and fill in his hospital forms and make me cuppas for a change. I tell you, darling, this is the way to go. He’ll never let me out again though.’








‘Does it hurt?’


‘The painkillers work a treat. The cast is frustrating thought; can’t move much. At least it’s not twinging anymore.’


‘Can I sign it?’


‘If you must. Would you like half of my iced bun? I had one before you arrived.’




‘Well, I’m running out of time. Don’t take the cherry.’


‘Can you sue or anything? I’m sure they’re not meant to injure you on your first workout.’


‘And I’m sure it’s my responsibility to look where I’m going. I was moving too quickly. Excuse me, hello? Please could we have a pot of tea over here? Thank you.’


‘You need locking up.’


‘Jail or old people’s home?’




‘I think you’re right.’




‘I’m sorry, darling, but five teaspoons is ridiculous. You’re going to die young or give yourself diabetes.


‘Says you, Auntie Two Buns.’


‘Well, I can’t stick to my principles all the time. Where’s the fun in that? Honestly, darling, that’s hot syrup; I don’t know how it doesn’t make you vomit. You ought to join Crossfit and learn what health and fitness mean.’


‘I think I’ve already seen…’


‘Oh, stop it, darling. I told you, it was all my fault. A man was practising his deadlifts – don’t look so shocked, I’m fully versed in Crossfit terminology now – I tripped on his barbell. I forgot for a moment that I wasn’t thirty-five, and that’s all there is to it. It can happen to anyone. Well, not you, obviously, you are thirty-five.’




‘Oh, of course, sorry. Remind me to do a bank transfer. Did you have a nice one?’


‘Not bad, thanks, went out for cocktails with Darren and one of our friends. Pretty quiet apart from that.’


‘Good, good, well enjoy it while you’re young. Goodness knows the aging backwards thing is harder. I’ve decided not to bother. I’m old. That’s fine. I’ve made my peace. It’s difficult to be young when you’re aching in muscles you never knew you had, when you can’t even watch where you’re walking, and when half the class are young enough to be your grandchildren.’


‘You the oldest?’


‘No. Marie pipped me to the post. She’s ancient. I want to be like her when I grow up, if I survive that long. It seems Crossfit is off the cards for the foreseeable. You know what I need?’


‘Feet up and Uncle Steve’s tipple?’




‘Bed socks and hot water bottle?’


‘Stop it.’


‘What, then?’


‘An activity that only involves my legs. Have you heard of kick boxing? I should imagine that’s a possibility.’




‘Or perhaps I could still attend Crossfit but only do squats and lunges and suchlike, although I should imagine I’d still need my arms for balance.’


‘You’re joking, right?’


‘No, no, I’m quite serious. I might be old, but I’m not dead.’


‘Auntie, no offence; you’re actually mad.’


‘Thank you, darling. I’ve made my peace with that too. It’s what keeps me going.’



Word Count: 1527